Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Tag Archives: The Work of the Poet

When prompts are posted, it’s common for me to miss the deadline. I still post these to my blog anyway, because that’s part of the work of the poet. Sort of like a rejection letter, and I respond to those surprisingly well considering my condition.

Anyway, Trifecta had called for “why we write” in exactly 33 words. I humbly offer this, better late than never! It will also be at my resting place, that little slice of blog heaven known as Poets United.  Peace, Amy

Because I Can

My ears are seashells
My eyes see past the world
My brain harbors memories…

So much conquered, understood
I write so I can tell the misunderstood,
“It’ll be okay, I’ve been there, too.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


Well, before I Blue Screen of Death again and haul this thing to the shop, I have to get in two more poems. One for Sunday Scribblings, the other for the Sunday Whirl; both are also at my poetic screen that’s never blue, Poets United.  I will log on at coffee shops to see what y’all have written and comment there… “Quick, before it melts (down)!” Amy

SUNDAY SCRIBBLINGS:
Pages of Stone

Fabricated from actual mineral
My favorite journal
Pencil circles, meanders
Glides with ease, with grace

Number Two lead, sharply honed
sings as it moves along the surface
Needle of an old phonograph
Playing Ellington from a shiny vinyl

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Sunday Scribblings asked for poems around the word “ease.” This was the first thing that came to mind… I found a journal with pages actually fabricated from STONE! How different, how environmentally intriguing. Then, when I ran my pencil over the surface, it was like writing on a whiteboard… it almost squeaked! Find some and tell me what you think.

SUNDAY WHIRL:
The Ballad of Marie Dressler (1962-1977)

At the dealer, climbed into a Volvo sedan
Paid cash; remained in the driver’s seat for years
My first car, a ’62, back when Swedish mechanics
crowded into one room, hovered in corners
and built them by hand, bolts to bumpers

My singing mother said, in her husky whisky tenor,
“Always bring mascara in your gig bag. If something
happens on the way to make you cry, you won’t show up
looking like a damned raccoon.” Good advice:
That night, my eyes were dampened in this way…

Stopped at a red light, rearview mirror shows a large car
barreling behind me; instinct pulled foot off brake and
left heel jammed in the clutch. Trapped. Impact. Moment.
Bundles flew, slow-motion; shocks shook with sounds of
metal bending. The anger and the floodgates opened together.

Dazed, I pried open the door, stormed back to give
that son-of-a-bitch the old what-for. Window rolls down,
old lady (sure!) says, “I’m Sister Elizabeth. I think I’m all right
but my Mama seems to have cut her lip.” Suddenly, I
got it: God’s dope-slap for sleeping with a priest.

I opened Mama’s door, her face was ash. “S-s-stay here,
ladies… sister… Mama…” Closed the door – on the nun’s
mother’s rosary beads. Clinkclickclink, all over the pavement.
(This, the coup de grace, surely sealing my ticket to Hell.)
Car was totaled, but I insisted squad car take me to my gig

where I played for eight hours straight with one potty break.
Songs I’d never known. “Piano Man” heard once in the dentist’s
waiting room. “Havah Negilah.” I was a shock savant.
Made $200 in tips, turned out that was down-pay for a one-way to LA.
Nun didn’t get a ticket (she was doing 75). Catholic cop.

Always name your cars. “Marie Dressler,” for the 30’s again actress:
Big, old, white, and beat up, but she still had a lot of class.
Her rear end was wide enough to absorb the impact. (Bless all in
Sweden!) Cop said, “You’d be DOA in a Chevrolet.”
Marie Dressler, faithful old gal, rest in pieces. Fondly, Amer

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

The Sunday Whirl (click to see the Wordle) gave us a dozen words, and this true story is the result. The Church gave me $600 for my car, and that with the tip money was enough for the plane ticket and an efficiency apt. in Venice Beach in 1977 (this is back before Venice looked like Starbucks threw up all over it). Thanks, Greggie, for urging me to go West. You SAVED my life and helped change my destiny.

NOTE: “Amer” was my family nickname, and all my East Coast friends call me that. LA friends call me “Amers.” But the praise band’s director, Ben, calls me “Amypants,” because I’m so opinionated. Now they just call me “Pants.” Go figure! Peace, Amy


Singer, Poet, Activist

Sings of love, peace, acceptance
Writes of mental illness, protest, LGBT alliance
(plus incest, sexual abuse and other taboos)
Acts to make the second shed its shame and
be embraced by the first

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Trifecta, we were asked to write about “three things in one,” in exactly 33 words. Also at my poetic all-in-one site, Poets United (proud to be a member!). Peace, Amy


HOW I LEFT IT

Shall I compare thee to a summoning day?

Wherefore art thou, morphine drip?

Death, be not proud… nor painful.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, I.

How that corpse got into my pajamas, I dunno.

Don’t forget your parting gift as you exit
the chapel, a little bit of Amy as a souvenir.

Am I still bipolar now that I’m dead, and does that mean
I can spend half my time haunting people who sucked?

Reports of my death will be greatly exaggerated, because
I’m just THAT special.

Rock stars die in plane crashes, but poets die with a phrase
that just came to mind, whispering, “Where’s my journal…?”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For We Write Poems, asking for our epitaph. (Also at my poetic “resting place,” Poets United!) I’m having my ashes put into doggie bags and distributed to mourners on their way to the post-funeral party at a cheesy bar, with notes to each on where to scatter bits of me. Part to Blanche’s stomping grounds, Council Bluffs. Part into the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers in Binghamton, and a pinch of me dumped into the spiedie sauce at Sharkey’s Bar… Matt Sweeney will get that assignment, no doubt. Carolyn will have Duncan to varnish a bit of me onto her harp used in playing at hospices. Christopher will sneak me into the old Pavarotti dressing room at the Met. Joseph will toss me off the Brooklyn Bridge; Colette gets Venice Beach duty. Walt will sift me onto the floor of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo; Nimue will keep me in a little pill box until she feels a good sneeze coming on, while Viv will sew me into the batting of one of her quilts.

Lex and Riley will be sent on a voyage to San Juan, to Bermuda, and to other places far and wide, so they will have time to talk about stuff. Marcia and Jesse will join them for the Venice Canal tossing; Greggie will take me to 6th and Wilshire, the site of the old Great American Food & Bev. Co. I’m thinking of sending my Republican relatives tea bags filled with… no, that would be mean. And it would taste nasty! Peace, Amy


I was going to post a poem, but more pressing matters… WordPressing matters, in fact. Thanks to Viv in France for bringing this to our attention.

When you leave a comment on any of our wonderful, creative, poetic, artistic, glorious blogs, REMEMBER to “uncheck” the sneaky little box underneath the window that says “Send me follow-ups to this comment.”

It used to be that you HAD to CHECK that box; you would then receive other comments related to that post in your email.

For some reason, I think Mitt Romney must be in charge, because it has flip-flopped to being checked FOR you, and then all our wonderful, awesome, amazing READERS (this means you!) get flooded with useless comments from our blogs. So unclick that stupid “default check” and you’ll be fine.

THIS IS NOT THE BLOGGERS’ FAULT, and we are trying to figure out how to get WordPress to change this. In the meantime, please, please don’t give up on sending comments… and we won’t give up on answering your critiques, your ideas, and your other comments. I’m sorry our host is giving y’all trouble.

Someone, please smack whoever it is… wait a sec, George W. Bush’s book tanked. Maybe he’s in charge now… in which case, we’re all screwed!

WMDWordPress Mass Distraction! YIIIIIKES!

Love you all madly.  Peace, Amy


Garden of Weeds

It can start with anything
A feather caught in a curling freefall
That cardinal pecking at my window

The random assemblage of spices
jumbled on the shelf – one tumbles me
awake, ablaze with cardamom coincidence

Mom’s spirit sharing coffee with me
telling stories from where she now resides
in heaven, and thisclose

Even bad memories stir me
dredge, sift, filtering through
my bones, seeping to the nerves

A prophet once told me that
love is everywhere
So is truth
So is pain
So is amazement
So is amusement
So is romance
So is anger…
despair …
relief

So it’s time
to reach for my journal
and sprout another plant

for my garden of weeds

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Poetic Bloomings, better late than never! Marie and Walt called for poems about SEEDS… seeds to plant, to nurture; seeds of poetry and other art… the beginning little “oomph” that pushes one to action.
Photo from Vishwasaha on WordPress. The PROPHET is named Marques Bovre, who also composed a lovely song called “Dandelion.” He’s been through cancer threatment and half the known world is praying for him. He’s on the upswing, but add him to YOUR list if you’re the praying type.  Peace, Amy


Friends, please don’t abandon me as I take a few weeks off to sort out our move to another home in Madison.  This one will have a proper workroom, space for breathing, and sunshine pouring through our windows.  I shall post “two for the road”; one sad, one about the work of the poet… for dverse, Sunday Scribblings, Poetic Bloomings, and Poets United.

If you comment on these, please be patient for a response, as I probably won’t be back until late January. And, as always, if you leave a comment, I will visit your blog in return! Blessings and peace for the New Year, Amy

At a Loss

At a loss, plum outta new thoughts
except those that drift:
first letters, then stop-start words
weave down the path to form
phrases (stitches awkwardly
frayed, signs of wear)

When I’m at a standstill…

I think on my friends
the quirks and catch-phrases
the confidences that
make the circle ever stronger

How we shoveled the shit back in the day
I smile, pick up my pencil
and suddenly, the absentee-brainer
becomes a no-sweater

Beginning to end
the heartbeat of the blend

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
———————————————–

A Brave One, 1985 (a barlette)

She’s a brave one
Bopping down the street
(after spending all night in the ER)

Smiles for strangers
and a hello for every telephone pole
(hitching down her skirt to cover bruises)

Nowhere special to go
Sunny, warm, a day to be spent in the park
(but not THAT park, never again)

Destination, the pier, downtown
near the Fulton Fish Market
(covers the smell of him that wouldn’t shower away)

Good thing she wore flip-flops
Sneakers would be too tight now
(his boots crushed her toes to bloody)

The doctor said come back
for a post-traumatic thing, at the hospital
(where strangers looked at her like she was garbage)

No, much better to take a dip
Water will heal her wounds
(Suddenly glad she never learned to swim)

Just a few minutes floating
in the gleaming sludge of the East River
(and his brutality will be gone forever)

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
(Process notes: The barlette is my own form – two short lines with (a commentary revealing truth).


All of us who know Joseph Harker and read his work are impressed. Floored. Gobsmacked. Delighted. Pick a positive adjective and it fits, including “horny”! His pen name fascinates me; I believe “Harker” must come from Mary Shelley, which pleases me no end. I love her work. Much of Joseph’s work could translate into other times, and so my poem reflects how I imagine him, having never seen him.

I had promised J. a poem for his birthday BUT then that manhole cover was put on top of my head and gravity, oy, gravity… in other words, depression set in and I was unable to write. I wrote this BEFORE the depression. THAT’S how depressed I was; I didn’t even post it.

This form might be a snowball or an etheree, except I believe those are based on syllables, not words.  So this may be an Amyball or an etherbarlow, I’m not sure.  (Viv will tell me!)  So, without further adieu, may I present the inimitable…

Joseph Harker (belated birthday present)

Joseph

Mister Harker

No other wordsmith

can cast his spell

Weaving phrases like spun glass

Each syllable carefully and lovingly considered

Attention to form, his style, so graceful

It takes a kind heart to create art

I can see him, slouched at his rolltop desk

Quill, inkwell, and parchment in place; he conjures a sonnet

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

(Also on my poetic hearthstone, Poets United)


Friends, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Marie Elena Good at Poetic Bloomings this week (she and Walt Wojtanik have never met, but they manage to create projects together online!).   Although the formatting doesn’t appear as uniform here as it does at the site, I’m still posting it here.  Thanks to Marie for excellent questions, and if you want to see the original, fully formatted interview, do yourself a favor and visit Poetic Bloomings yourself!  Cut and past this link into your browser, because if I flip to the format where I can add links, I’ll lose all the pictures!!

http://poeticbloomings2.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/web-wednesday-amy-barlow-liberatore/

Welcome to our 12th Web Wednesday! This time, I had the fun of interviewing a poet I’ve actually met face-to-face:  singer, songwriter, poet and friend, Amy Barlow Liberatore.  Amy took time out of her cross-country solo trip to meet me for a quick lunch.  This itsy bitsy gal has a magnanimous presence (Buffalo influence, perhaps? ;) ), which we hope to provide more than just a nibble of in the next few moments.

 Amy, you say of yourself that you “have a tendency to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.”  Ready to strike?  Let’s go! 

PBs: In your chapbook “Dance Groove Funhouse,” you have the following statement:  “Chapbooks are dirt cheap and fun to have around (kind of like me…!).”  LOVE IT!  Will you elaborate on that a bit?

ABL:  Well, the “dirt cheap and fun to have around” bit was just a synapse firing off a little joke.  It’s true that I have always been a cheap date (in the good way)… Lex and I think a splurge is going out for coffee and scones after seeing a movie.  We live pretty simply.  And I have always been told I am fun to be around because I am accepting of all, have a dark (bordering on grotesque) sense of Black Irish humor, and love a good belly laugh.  Years ago, before I was diagnosed manic depressive, I believe I might have danced on a few tables… gee, I hope my daughter doesn’t read this!

PBs note:  Amy’s chapbook is available for purchase or trade on her website, Sharp Little Pencil.

PBs: And while we’re on the subject of groovin’ and fun, I rediscovered your YouTube clip of “My Heart Has Never Been So Broken.”   Great fun, talented lady!

ABL:  Thanks, hon!  I always introduce that tune as “an ode to heartbreak and OCD.”  Sad part is, that YouTube clip missed the opening verse, which is spoken quite dramatically over some piano chords:

 When dumped and downhearted, unloved and unsure

My girlfriends say desserts are the natural cure

Carbohydrate comfort; sugar-coated glee

A date with Ben AND Jerry… a fling with Sara Lee (that always gets ‘em!)

But I’m the kind of girl, when I get depressed,

I skip cholesterol and get cleaning-obsessed…

…and then the clip picks up there.  Thanks, Amy!

PBs: There is a poem in your chapbook that particularly describes how I feel about poetry myself.

New Drug

 Oh Lord, I’ve found a new drug called poetry

More perilous than creating music

With its rhythm and rhyme and

Only-so-far-you-can –bend-it

 Poetry is terrible, tantalizing taffy

Fun as bubblegum cuz you don’t know when it will pop

Deadly as daggers, thuggish as thoughts

Dangerous as freedom of expression can get

Bet your bottom dollar I’ll stir up trouble yet

Tell us about this poem, if you would.  Was this one of your first?   Have you found this to be quite true for you?

ABL:  That one came about a year into my writing, shortly before I decided to format and self-publish Dance Groove Funhouse.  I mean literally self-publish… format the whole thing on MSPublisher and take it to Office Max.

I found poetry to be a refreshing break from songwriting – all our other songwriting poets, including Walt, will tell you the same thing.  Free verse allows for internal rhyme or no rhyme at all.  This poem is an example of how I talk sometimes… very free-form, all over the place.  And “stirring up trouble” is second nature to me because I’ve been an activist most of my life; my work reflects a lot of those values, instilled in me by my mom.

PBs: I must say to you nearly word-for-word what I said to Paula Wanken:  Your blog, Sharp Little Pencil, attracts foot traffic and comments that would make most poetry bloggers jealous.  Are you willing to share your secret to success with the rest of us?

ABL:  Really?  I didn’t know I was that popular.  I try to answer lots of prompts, and, with the exception of a recent “blanket” thank-you to well-wishers when I posted my taking a break due to depression (there were so many – I’m really blessed), I answered every single comment personally.  In fact, if someone writes a particularly telling comment, either on the subject or because s/he is sharing something from the heart, I will usually post the reply and then send them a copy via email.  It takes time but lets folks know I really listen to them.

The other effort I make is to visit the websites of every single blogger who leaves a comment – and I leave a direct link to my latest work in the comment box.  Sort of invites people back, and then we begin exchanging links.  Once I’m through with that, I go back to prompts I’ve answered and visit those folks, leaving a link to my take on the prompt.

Certain poets have a way of “getting me” and we have established wonderful correspondence this way, keeping the conversation going.  Also, when someone hints at having problems or memories that have been dredged up by a poem about mental illness or perhaps incest or molestation, I’ll write s/he an email, a couple of lines, to say, “Seems like this brought up some stuff with you.  If you ever want to talk, email me back.”  That, too, has produced amazing give-and-take.  And what happens with Amy stays with Amy.  I would never, ever use someone else’s story confided to me as the subject of a poem.  I mean, that’s the worst kind of person to be:  mean.

PBs: Your response leads me to touch on a delicate subject. I admire you, Amy, for making no secret of the difficulties you’ve experienced in life, including mental illness.  Please tell us a bit about The Awakenings Project.

ABL:  With pleasure.  The Awakenings Project is an effort to encourage folks who have mental disorders to express themselves through art.  I submitted three poems to The Awakenings Review and was pleasantly surprised to see all three in print!  Then one of the founders, Robert Lundin, called me to chat about their fundraising efforts… and when a reporter for a daily in the suburbs of Chicago contacted Robert about the 10th anniversary of The Awakenings Project, Robert referred her to me for quotes about the value to my self-esteem, having my work published in a forum where no holds are barred and anyone can talk about any facet of mental illness.

My calling in life is to help get mental disorders “out of the closet.”  The parallels to the gay world are not lost on me.  People used to be shunned or thrown out of families or institutionalized because of what is simply a chemical imbalance.  No one’s scared of diabetes – but when the imbalance is in the brain, folks freak out.  I say to the world, “I’m manic depressive, I have PTSD and was molested by my dad when I was a little girl.  I also have seasonal affective disorder and I live in Wisconsin!  And guess what, other than the once-in-a-while ‘grey times,’ I’m a pretty functional, fun person.”  I want everyone to feel good about themselves.  Being mentally ill does not define me, any more than being straight, having political opinions that are somewhere to the left of Howard Zinn, or being a singer and pianist.  These are all parts of me; none are the sole Amy.

 

PBs: Amy, I’d like to share here The Other-Minded, with your permission.  It is an AMAZING statement/revelation/explanation/ode … I think it is one of your finest pieces. It completely wows me. 

ABL:  MARIE, THANK YOU FOR THAT COMPLIMENT.  AND YES, PLEASE DO SHARE IT, THANKS!

 PBs: Thank you, Amy.  To quote you: “FOR EVERYONE, so they may understand what some call ‘crazy.’”

THE OTHER-MINDED

 I am one of the “other-minded”

We filter truth through a lens tinted by our mood

or lit by the fullest moon

to create art, to fulfill our promise

Who else will capture the infinite loneliness

of the slab mattress in the suicide ward?

The blurred visions of panic in a grocery store,

surrounded by cardboard people

blithely stuffing their carts with Cocoa Puffs?

Who else will bear witness to

the undulation of one’s naked self in a mirror,

mesmerized by the sheer loveliness reflected?

Who but we have days we celebrate

for their sheer boredom

Walking the fields of home

while ceiling-gazing in midcity?

We endure darkness, yet we bathe in

the glorious light that follows

We stumble, then venture down a path

the “sane” would never dare.

Our words, our artwork,

our songs and poems

breathe both bleakness and dizzying victories;

improbable stories of

real people they’ll think we made up

(if only it were so…)

We are labeled misfit toys

but we dance on the edge

of a rolling coin

that never comes to rest

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

PBs: Would you please briefly share with us what effect your journey has had on your writing? 

ABL:  I know that creative people all have a spark.  When I was a little girl, I HAD to sing.  There was no choice.  When I learned piano, I HAD to play in clubs; singing Gershwin and Ellington and all the classics was like dancing in the spring rain.  I also have a gift of gab that lent itself well to playing clubs, because it’s all about getting strangers comfortable around a piano bar.  Later I started to write my own material, both jazz and gospel tunes.

But when poetry entered my life – and it did enter, I wasn’t looking for it – I realized there is a mindset that is required in an artist.  A certain letting go, a willingness to peek at the world from around the corner and take notes, an urge to speak out about injustice, or simply craft a haiku for the sake of beauty.  I have always been different from “the other kids.”  That is partly the mental illness that runs in my family, for which I am grateful, because I took chances and went places my friends never dared.  That, along with the creative spark bestowed on me by my Creator, gave me a life without all sorts of boundaries most folks couldn’t live without.  It allowed a girl who grew up in the country a Greenwich Village lifestyle, interesting friends, a chance to live in big cities, to be pregnant in Bermuda and later teach my baby to swim off the shores of Puerto Rico.  Almost everybody else played it safer than I did, and I think I’ve had one of the more interesting lives of anyone back at school.

Here in Madison, some of my friends are homeless; some are university students; some are at my church, others in the cafes.  Some are Muslim, most are Christian… my former husband is Jewish, so we call our daughter “the Protestant Irishish Wandering Jew.”  She’s a hoot and a half, too, that Riley, living in LA now.

PBs: Along those lines, you are also a woman of faith (and a preacher’s wife).  I often ask our Web Wednesday guests what role their faith plays in their writing.  For you, I’d also like to know specifically if being the wife of a preacher inhibits your freedom of expression … or releases it?

ABL:  Great question, Marie, but not so easy to answer.  I came to faith after losing my dad and then my mother four months later, in the middle of a divorce and having just been told I could no longer play in clubs because back then, the second-hand smoke was going to literally kill me.  I have a hideous bronchial condition that still dogs me.  I had always prided myself on getting along fine “without God,” and holy smoke, when the hammer came down, all that loss and grief, I called out, and God was there for me.  Looking back, I realized that God’s fingerprints were all over my life; the Spirit whispered good advice when I could have made some dangerous mistakes.  And Jesus had the best advice ever:  Love.  That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.

When I met Lex, he was not yet a pastor.  He was a community organizer, helping low-income tenants with absentee landlords, working for social, racial, environmental, and economic justice.  I was doing the same.  He finally realized that, of all the great community organizers – folks who rally support for the oppressed – Jesus was the best example.  We met in a Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) and became fast friends; when I thought he was going to ask me out, I asked Riley if it would be OK with her should I start dating (six years after my divorce).  She said, “Is it Lex?  He’s great, Mom.  You should marry him.”  Eight years old, she was, and completely serious.

Of course, we did get married, and then he felt the call.  Once he was ordained, his first church was in a small town.  I was a fish out of water; even though I had grown up in the country, I had definitely morphed into a city mouse.  I mean, once you’ve discovered that dinner can be in Chinatown and if you cross Canal Street, dessert is cannoli in Little Italy, small-town life can seem a bit cramped.  I’m no snob – I still smile when a truckload of cow-based fertilizer drives by, because it brings back memories.  But I was so isolated from culture – a 45-min. drive into Buffalo isn’t bad, but coming home at night dodging deer on the back roads made it impossible for me to perform.  The community was also very conservative, and here’s this chick in a John Lennon T-shirt hammering an Obama sign into the front lawn… they didn’t know what to make of me, and although I tried to “fit in,” I finally decided (with Lex’s encouragement) that my life is mine.  I was in show business and writing years before Lex’s call… and our move to Madison, WI, has brought out the best in me.  The folks at this church knew ALL about me – I disclosed my mental disorders, read them my poetry, sat in at a piano bar and played some fun stuff.  Lake Edge United Church of Christ really embraced not just Lex, but me as well, for being myself.  The most affirming, real people here.

PBs: Like our own Walt, you write music (melody and lyrics).  “Tioga Moon” makes me swoon, my friend.  Lovely in melody as well as lyrics, and you have the perfect voice for the style. (Click here to have a listen [Click on play arrow on upper left-hand corner of the blog].)  Can you explain how you know whether what you’ve written is a song, or a poem?  Do the words and melody come to you simultaneously? 

ABL:  That was the first song I ever wrote, really, and thanks for the compliment!  I started it in California because it was Christmas and I was so homesick.  Also, my friend Rickie Lee Jones said, “Write your own stuff.  Write things you enjoy singing, that fit your style.  Don’t write for the world… write for you.”  Best advice ever.

Lyrics are always first.  I do have an idea of the beat or the feel, but I get about ¾ of the words written and then I go back and “find the voice” that will sing the song to me.  I’m notorious for pulling up at a friend’s house, knocking on the door, and saying, “Don’t say anything, OK?  Can I have some paper and a pencil?”  Then I scrawl five line staves on the paper and write what I hear in my head.  I’m self-taught but I have near-perfect pitch, so I know my key before the pencil hits the pad.

Lex also knows:  Whether it’s a cocktail napkin, the back of an envelope, or a scrap of paper, if my writing is on it, don’t throw it away!  I swear, one day they’ll have to carry me out from under a pile of dribs and drabs of unfinished songs.  There will be notes and poems hanging off my shoes like errant toilet paper, trailing behind me.

When young singers ask me about technique, I tell them, “First, sit down and read the lyrics like a poem.  Read it aloud, with real feeling.  Find out what the words mean before you attempt to sing the song, or you’ll just be another Ella clone, copying someone else’s style, never having that heart connection to the music.

PBs: I understand you have had more than one brush with celebrity.  Who, how, when, where, and why? ;)

ABL:  It all started this way:  I

have the coolest cousin in the world, Gregg Laughlin.  You’ll recognize that surname if you read my poetry, because our grandparents

were Blanche and Bill Laughlin, and they appear in many of my poems, especially Blanche, my guardian manic depressive angel.  Anyway, Gregg convinced me to drop everything in Binghamton, NY and move to Santa Monica, where he ran the Great American Food & Beverage Co., which in the late 70s was a very hot spot.  (Pictured above:  Yvonne, “Cuzzy” Gregg Laughlin, piano man/singer David Bloom, and me at a recent reunion of the GAF&B “family.”)  All the waiters, hosts, and bus people were performers – you had to audition.  He told me, “Just come.  Don’t tell anyone you’re my cousin, and DON’T mention you didn’t audition.”  I ended up being one of the only jazz people there, and all it took was sitting at the piano and singing, “Hard-Hearted Hannah” for them to accept me.  A wonderful group of people.  We were immortal, of course, took all sorts of chances with all sorts of substances and didn’t worry about the future.  And in the door came, you know, Hal Linden from “Barney Miller,” the sweetest man ever.  Patti Davis, before her dad was president; she had the best “home-grown” in town!  Davy Jones of the Monkees, who seemed to be there to poke fun at his fellow ex-Monkee Peter Tork for working at a restaurant.

I later told Peter I thought Davy was “a bitter little troll.”  Pete and I stay in touch; he’s been battling cancer recently, and Mickey has been right there for him.  (ABOVE:  Cindy Wolf (amazing blues singer), Hal Cohen (who has a studio now), me, and Louis “Jamie” Chalif, all longtime friends.  But weren’t we pretty back in the day?  Hell, we still are!)

I mentioned Rickie.  I met her back when we were ALL poor and she was just coming up.  Talk about a roller coaster, seeing a friend leap from a humble little cottage to the #2 album on the Billboard charts.  (Damn that Supertramp, they never fell out of first place, ha ha.)  We’re still friends, but mostly we talk about our daughters!  She truly opened the world to me, taking me along on her first tour, sharing the fun.

Um.  Bonnie Raitt, on tour with Rickie, fabulous woman, one of my heroes.  Also on tour, Peter Erskine, one of the best drummers in the world, who’s still a friend, and the nicest guy you’d want to meet.  Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston’s husband, stopped by my piano bar in Puerto Rico and waited until I’d packed up all my stuff for the night to ask if he could sit in, then got bent out of shape when I didn’t know who he was.   Like I cared! Ace Frehley from Kiss, who pushed me out of the way as I was exiting the elevator and expected ME to apologize.  “Don’t you know who I am?  I’m Ace Frehley from Kiss!”  I shook my head and said, “Proof positive that money doesn’t buy class.”  Bob Dylan, at the restaurant… talk about zero charisma, YAWN.   But when I went to visit Riley last year, I chased down Tony Shaloub and asked him to pose for a pic with me, because I’ve loved his work for years.

PBs: You are one of the most supportive poets I know.  You touched on this above, but I’d like to delve a bit deeper:  How important do you believe it is to support one another’s work, and how do you go about it?

ABL:  I’ve only been writing for a few years, and it gets to me when poets put themselves down.  I had zero self-esteem growing up, so I know something about lack of encouragement.  It’s incredibly important that we as a poetic and artistic community support one another.  The arts are under siege in this country, if only because no one wants to spend money publishing, etc.  Blogs are a Godsend, but they don’t translate into money, so if you’re a poet, you’re doing it because you love words, because you HAVE TO express yourself.  And so the more we not only praise each other’s work, but also gently critique it, the stronger we all become.  When I see a typo, I mention it in the comment, “just in case you decide to submit it.” Marie, you have one of the rare first-edition copies of Dance Groove that has multiple typos in it.  I learned a big lesson there.  And recently, I had the privilege of polishing final edits for David Fields on Fred Weintraub’s upcoming autobiography, Bruce Lee, Woodstock & Me.  Fred started The Bitter End and energized the entire coffee house scene in the Village, circa 50s and 60s.  Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Cosby, Richard Pryor, Dylan, lots of folkies, all got their start with Fred at The Bitter End.  He also helped make Bruce Lee an international star with his first wide-release film.  Anyway, if you are a fan of that era, the book comes out in January, so check it out, and look for my name in the acknowledgments, LOL.

PBs: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want us to know?

ABL:  I say what I mean, I speak truth to power (probably why my FBI file is so fat), I’ll always have your back, I am a committed pacifist and a die-hard Leftie ‘union-yes’ feminist who doesn’t want to convert anyone from the Tea Party; we all have a voice and a vote. I don’t proselytize; I try to live by Jesus’ commandment to love and not to judge.   If you’re straight or gay or lesbian or transgender, our home is a source of unquestioning love.  As for race, we are all shades of brown in some varying degree, so let’s get over the racism, people.  One more thing… my only prejudice is against bigots!

Marie, thanks so much for this opportunity to share more about my life and my work with our friends at Poetic Bloomings!  You and Walt create amazing projects, and I believe this interactive blog is some of your best work.  And to think it all started at Poetic Asides…

PBs: Thank YOU, Amy.  Your willingness to be entirely transparent for the furtherance of creative expression and mental health impresses me.  God bless you, talented lady. 

One final thing:   As always, I asked our guest to share one poem she feels embodies her work.  Usually, I post these toward the beginning of the interview.  This time, I wanted to end with Amy’s choice.  In her words, she wrote this  “… in hopes that anyone who had reached the brink of despair and was considering suicide would think twice.  It speaks to mental health issues, but also to deeper feelings, the darkness of a lost soul. It’s the edgier side, but truth is bone deep.”

Finale

Suicide
Bloodletting bride of
isolation
Over-rated solution to
confusion
Delusion tells you it’s
the only way out
(“Please proceed to the nearest exit”)

Psych meds assuage the
doubt
Numb it, dumb it down

But for the dedicated
deathbound
Hounds of hell at their
heels
In the end
it’s the end.

A final farewell to friends, family
Never mind who finds you
dangling

Don’t worry, your mom will bleach
the bathtub
But the sight will frighten and
haunt them forever

Never say never – again, I say:
Pick up the phone
Make the call
You are loved

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

 

THANKS AGAIN to Marie Elena for… being Marie Elena.  She and Walt post prompts and more at Poetic Bloomings, including these Interview Wednesdays.   Keep them on your blogroll!  Peace, Amy


Sunday Scribblings asked for thoughts about each poet’s muse. I believe I was one of the lucky ones; I also believe this may account for my poor grades in school! No blame at all, only gratitude for being so blessed. Peace, Amy
PS This is also at Poets United, the poetic collective.

I Met My Muse When I Was Two

Dancing, glittering over my playpen.
Sweet music singing when the record player was silent.

During school, whispering secrets to me
(so much more enticing than scribbles on the chalkboard).

Winding in a scenting breeze, gentle on my nose as I
walked the streets of a smelly, gritty city.

Capturing the intake of my every breath,
flowing through my body, creating peace within my harried soul.

Inspiring luscious, ludicrous, outlandish, lovely thoughts…
my Muse.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil